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Pownall, Marjorie Evelyn (Eve) (1902–1982)

by Jan Roberts

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Evelyn Pownall, c1961

Evelyn Pownall, c1961

Newcastle Region Library, 62985

Marjorie Evelyn Pownall (1902-1982), historian and author of children’s books, was born on 12 January 1902 at Kings Cross, Sydney, eldest of three children of Sydney-born parents Percival Joseph Sheridan, civil servant, and his wife Evelyn Irene, née Lane. Eve (also known as Terry and Marjorie) grew up at Kiama, Windsor, Muswellbrook and Sydney. She completed her education at North Sydney Girls’ High School, where she circulated her own magazine The Augur. After completing a secretarial course, she was employed at Fox Films and then at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Ltd until her marriage to Leslie Pownall, a clerk, on 21 December 1929 at St Augustine’s Church of England, Neutral Bay. The couple settled at Longueville and raised two children; Eve, an avid reader, began reviewing children’s literature for the Australasian Book News and Literary Journal.

Encouraged by Leslie, Eve became a meticulous researcher and prolific writer. The range of her publications was remarkable: risqué comics and short stories written during the war years, a ghost-written sex manual, books about pioneer women, histories of Australian exploration, settlement and development for adults and children, stories in the State Department of Education’s School Magazine, reviews and editorial works. Her first major work was a social history for children, The Australia Book (1952), which was illustrated by her friend Margaret Senior and was named by the Children’s Book Council as best book of the year. In 1980 a revised edition, Australia from the Beginning, was published.

Pownall was keen to record the important role in remote areas of women and children, black and white. She wrote Mary of Maranoa: Tales of Australian Pioneer Women (1959), later expanded as Australian Pioneer Women (1975). In 1977 she observed in a talk ‘Writing History: A Child with a Doll’:

They used to have an old saying when I was young, ‘Geography is maps, history is chaps’. It’s the chaps I go looking for, and the chaps’ wives and the kids . . . what were the kids playing . . .? How were their mothers coping out on the frontiers . . . [or] during the grey days of the Depression?

To research The Thirsty Land: Harnessing Australia’s Water Resources (1967) and The Singing Wire: The Story of the Overland Telegraph (1973), she drove to the outback. Her voice, encouraging the love of Australian history, was heard in schools and in children’s libraries—she organised ‘libraries in a box’ in New South Wales—and on educational programs on Australian Broadcasting Commission radio. A crusader for children’s literature, she had been an early supporter of the New South Wales group that became the Children’s Book Council (of Australia). She helped to establish its journal Reading Time and the annual award for the children’s book of the year, and compiled a history, The Children’s Book Council in Australia: 1945-1980 (1980).

Striking and with strong features, Pownall was warm-hearted with a mischievous sense of humour, and forthright. With many interests including poetry and music, she retained her youthful enthusiasm. Her friends included Joy Ewart, Marjorie Barnard, Marjory and Lloyd Rees and Maurice Saxby. A supporter of the Australian Labor Party and a republican, she remonstrated about anything unjust.

In December 1977 Pownall was appointed MBE; in 1981 she was the first recipient of the Lady Cutler award for distinguished service to children’s literature in New South Wales. Predeceased in 1962 by her husband and survived by her daughter and son, she died on 15 November 1982 at her desk in her home at Forestville and was cremated. The Children’s Book Council presents the annual Eve Pownall award for information books.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Anderson (ed), The Singing Roads (1965)
  • W. McVitty, Authors & Illustrators of Australian Children’s Books (1989)
  • Reading Time, Jan 1983, p 7
  • Pownall papers (Lu Rees Archives, University of Canberra, and Local Studies Collection, Lane Cove Library, Sydney)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Jan Roberts, 'Pownall, Marjorie Evelyn (Eve) (1902–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pownall-marjorie-evelyn-eve-15495/text26710, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 18 August 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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